A Centennial High School social studies teacher is out learning this month, the cold way.
Chris Ripken, of Blaine, is in Nunavut, in northeastern Canada, at roughly the same longitude as central Greenland. This week, he's in the second of a 2 1/2-week arctic dogsled trek, from Pangnirtung, across the Cumberland Peninsula, to Broughton Island, on the Baffin Sea.
The trip is part of GoNorth, an online adventure-learning program that operates in collaboration with the University of Minnesota and the College of Education and Human Development and NOMADS Adventure & Education.
Ripken is joining the three-person team in the fourth of a series of dogsled journeys across five Arctic regions: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2006, Chukotka in 2007, Fennoscandia in 2008, Nunavut this year, and next year, Greenland. Each year, a teacher-explorer joins the expedition for a couple of weeks.
The team posts weekly photo and video trail reports and a daily audio update on its website, www.polarhusky.com, which are followed by almost 4,000 teachers around the world.
Reached last week by phone in Pangnirtung, the 37-year-old teacher said he was wowed by the beauty of the mountains and fjords that make up the arctic landscape, and the kindness of the people in the town where the team members were staying as they prepared their gear and dog teams for the 140-mile journey.
"The community members have been so helpful for us in getting things together and making things work," he said.
He told of a man who loaned the team tools, drove them around to look for wood, and showed them the seal and caribou he had hunted with his son.
And the local kids come down to help feed the dogs. Tommy, a 13-year-old, helped him sand the handlebars of one of the sleds, and shared his knowledge of local hunting.
"One of the things is just the traditional ecological knowledge you learn from the people who are on the land constantly," he said. "One of the things the curriculum goes through is phenology, making observations about what's going on, from wind direction to temperature, to what kind of animals you are observing at any specific time."
Ripken also was expecting to measure snow depth and volume along the trail, verifying climate information for NASA.
As the group prepared to leave by Saturday, he'd gotten acquainted with the 24-dog team and learned what to do if they run into an angry polar bear ("I'm not really afraid of that, but it's not something I'd look forward to," he said). And he received his first pair of Mukluk boots. ("I feel like I'm walking around in warm, comfy slippers," he said).
The team is pulling two 1,100-pound, Inuit-designed sleds packed with camping gear, as well as a generator, a couple of laptops, video and still cameras, satellite phones and a linkup device. Along the trail, they're sleeping in tents, even with temperatures averaging 5 to 10 below zero.
The Centennial School District gladly covered Ripken's leave, said Principal Tom Breuning.
"Chris teaches geography, and now he's out living it," Breuning said. "He will come back and share his experience, and that enriches our curriculum."
Ripken said he also was thankful for the support of his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Aubrey, 13, who he hopes will also learn from his experience.
"I want to really model the idea that getting out and seeing the world is the best way to learn about the world," he said.
Ripken returns to the Twin Cities on May 6.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409